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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Mar 23, 2005 12:42 am

• cavil •

Pronunciation: kæ-vêl

Part of Speech: Intransitive verb (no direct object)

Meaning: To quibble, to wrangle over trivial details, especially over things that cause displeasure.

Notes: This good word is intransitive, which means it cannot take a direct object, which is to say, you can't cavil anything. (There was a transitive form that is now obsolete.) It does accept objects of the prepositions over, at, and about, to cavil over/at/about the price of eggs in China. Someone who cavils is a caviler (or a caviller) and the occupation is caviling (or cavilling). For an adjective you can use a Romance language variant, cavillous, or a native English one, cavilsome, which has unjustifiably been ignored since the 17th century.

In Play: Caviling implies overlooking much larger issues: "Chester Draurs spent $18,000 for his motorcycle but will cavil with a station attendant over the price of a quart of oil." All English-speakers know that you should never look a gift horse in the mouth, so this would appall any of us: "When her father gave Lucy Lastik a new car for her birthday, she caviled at its color."

Word History: Today's good word is another product of French. The verb caviller devolved peacefully to French from Latin cavillari "to jeer, poke fun", a verb from cavilla "jeering". Cavilla is akin to Latin calvi "to trick", which is the ultimate origin of English calumny. In English we would expect that initial [k] sound to show up as [h] and there was an Old English word, holian "to slander", that didn't make it through to us. Kelein "to beguile" is the Greek offspring of the same etymological line.
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Postby Apoclima » Wed Mar 23, 2005 2:50 am

They argued over the world situation and then caviled over the right amount of tip to leave, but they agreed immediately to split the bill evenly.

Thanks, Doc!

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Postby Brazilian dude » Wed Mar 23, 2005 10:53 am

This word has acquired different (and differing) meanings in Portuguese and Spanish.

In Spanish, it means ponder, deliberate, think deeply, as in Llegué a esta conclusión después de mucho cavilar - I arrived at this conclusion after thinking about it deeply.

Portuguese also has the meaning of ponder, deliberate, or think deeply, but with an evil purpose (as far as I could gathe from my dictionary). I must confess I was only familiar with the Spanish meaning, and I had never seen the Portuguese word, so I'll try to make up an example in Portuguese (if WQ doesn't think it too fitting, he's more than welcome to rectify or ameliorate it): Eles cavilaram para que ela lhes passasse todo o seu salário - They set a plot so that she would give them all her salary.

Now, I've googled cavilar in Portuguese, and all the examples I've found seem to come from Galician sources (the spelling is a bit different, but sometimes Galician can be misleading, because some speakers write it according to Portuguese spelling rules) and cavilar seems to have the same meaning as in Spanish. I'll have to look further into this word to give you a more accurate description.

Brazilian dude

P.S. It's funny that an English word can sometimes teach you words in your own language. Isn't that great?
Languages rule!

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Postby Brazilian dude » Tue Apr 05, 2005 3:39 pm

Here's the answer they gave me about my query (what is cavilar in Portuguese and how is it used?), in Portuguese:


Cavilar e cavilação


Estou intrigado com a palavra cavilar, que encontrei outro dia no dicionário. Já estava bastante familiarizado com o seu significado em espanhol (segundo o dicionário da RAE: cavilar. (Del lat. cavill).
1. tr. Pensar con intención o profundidad en algo. U. t. c. intr.)
O meu dicionário Aurélio diz isto a respeito de cavilar: V. intr. Usar de cavilação, maquinar com astúcia. Cavilação: Astúcia, ardil, manha. As páginas em "português" que encontrei no Google estavam todas em galego, e aí pelo que li o significado era igual ao espanhol (influência espanhola, talvez?)
Gostaria que comentassem o significado dessa palavra e a contextualizassem, porque fiquei curioso.
Muito obrigado mais uma vez.

Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira

Há regist[r]os da palavra cavilação desde o século XV e da palavra cavilar desde o século XVI.
Estas palavras derivam dire(c)tamente da língua latina: do substantivo no acusativo ‘cavillatione-’ e do verbo ‘cavillare’.
Na língua latina, ‘cavillatione-’ significa facécia, gracejo, mofa, zombaria, escárnio, subtileza, sofisma, argumento frívolo, dito sentencioso.
Na língua portuguesa, cavilação significa razão falsa e enganosa, astúcia para induzir alguém em erro; sofisma; maquinação fraudulenta; ardil; promessa dolosa; ironia maliciosa; agrados fingidos; manha.
‘Cavillare’ significa, na língua latina: ser obje(c)to de riso; ser escarnecido, ser ludibriado.
Na língua portuguesa, cavilar significa: sofismar enganando, iludindo com cores, protestos e subterfúgios; troçar; plane[j]ar enganos; interpretar falsamente...
«Cavilar as ordenações» (interpretar as ordenações ardilosamente).
«Aquelas cavilações permanentes tornavam-no insuportável.»
«Usou de manifesta cavilação para convencer o cliente.»

A. Tavares Louro

If I understand this correctly, cavillare had a passive meaning in Latin (to be made fun of) but in Portuguese (and Spanish) it has acquired an active meaning (in Portuguese to fool, deceive, have someone on, take someone for a ride, etc.)

Brazilian dude
Languages rule!

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